September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

STEM Family Night – Fun Learning Night for All!

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

Seven years ago, a colleague and I were working on getting accepted to NASA Advanced Space Camp for Educators. We had been to basic camp, loved the experience, and knew for us to be accepted for Advanced Camp that we had to do something big. We decided to do a Space Night at our elementary school, have a pre-registration sign-up, invite scientists and educators from around Los Angeles come to do a 45-minute workshop, and it would be just the thing to get us accepted. 7 years later, Science Night is now the biggest event of the school year, with over 2/3 of the student body and their families attending on a Friday night in the spring (and yes, we were both accepted into Advanced Camp!).

There are many different ways of hosting or leading an evening STEM night. Before teaching elementary, I taught 8th grade Physical Science at a school that every subject had a night activity during the year. We had a Math Night, Social Studies Night, Science Night, and English/Language Arts Night- all of which were well-attended, and planned to be about 2 months apart from each other, to not interfere with the other events. Each classroom teacher was in charge of some kind of hands-on activity in some aspect of their subject matter. For example- for Science Night, one room was dissecting squid (with a side table cooking up the squid to much on), another room made bracelets with each color of bead representing a genetic trait, one room had a “murder mystery”, where the students had to look at the fingers swirls of the suspects (classroom teachers), and try to figure out who committed the crime. Each activity did not cost too much, was able to be completed in about 10 minutes, and had some component to take home- either the actual activity, or a handout that explained the science behind what they did. The hope would be that when they saw the paper, bracelet, etc, that it would help them remember what they had done that evening, and inspire more questions or thought.

At my current school, we had not done anything of that matter before. Doing a Science Night at an elementary school was easier in some aspects (thinking of something hands-on that covers a concept is easier when thinking about a 6-year-old as opposed to an 8th grade student), but also remembering that an elementary school is much more likely to have very young siblings that shouldn’t have items easily placed in their mouth makes it more challenging. Over the years, Science Night changed from a pre-registration, maximum of 30 people per workshop, and only 2 workshops in an evening, to an Open-House format, with 15 workshops, and a 3-hour window of time. In addition to the workshops, there is normally 2 or 3 shows – animal shows, a “bug guy,” or some presenters from a workshop doing a bigger production.

So how do you go about starting a STEM night? Begin with what surrounds your community. If you teach in a Title I school, there are a bunch of companies and museums that will come to your school in the evenings to lead programs, either for free or at a very reduced cost. Many large companies, particularly in the aerospace industry, have programs for schools that vary between guest speakers to building paper airplanes, to shooting off rockets – all you have to do is ask!

Depending on your school demographics, you may have some parents or community members that are in STEM fields that would be willing to come out to show what they do. Pictures, videos, maybe a small hands-on activity is all that so many kids need to get inspired for a new career option that they had never considered before.

But what about if you live in an area that doesn’t have a company around willing to host, and the families or community members are not interested in presenting? If you have a few teachers willing to jump in, you can still make an incredible night! NASA has a number of easy-to-lead, hands-on activities such as “toys in space,” in which the kids make or play with a variety of toys, and then can watch videos of the toys being played with on the International Space Station. I have had parents lead a “fun fly” station, where they can play with battery-operated “wands” to create a static field in order to keep small mylar shapes upright. Have a teacher who is a fan of coding? Bring out some iPads, and have the students do some simple coding with Scratch Jr. or a similar program. Options are endless!

Over the years, our school’s Cub Scouts have gotten involved, selling pizza for the night. The boys are excited, because it helps them earn badges, the families get fed, and the scouts have then donated the proceeds back to the science program- everyone wins!

While it can take a lot of prep to get started, the magic that a STEM night produces for the students, the school, and the community is incredible. Give it a shot! If you need ideas on how to get an evening started, please feel free to contact me!

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, and is CSTA’s Intermediate (grade 3-5) Director.

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.